Dixon mayor to speak at Rita Crundwell sentencing

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February 12, 2013 ( ROCKFORD, Ill.) — At least half a dozen public officials are expected to make victim statements at this week’s sentencing of a small-town Illinois bookkeeper who stole $53 million in public funds.

A government filing Tuesday says Dixon Mayor James Burke is among those who will describe how Rita Crundwell’s crimes devastated his northern Illinois community.
As the city’s longtime comptroller, Crundwell used the stolen money to fund her nationally renowned horse-breeding operation and luxurious tastes.

She’s scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Rockford. The most the 60-year-old could face is 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in November to a felony count of wire fraud. A state case against her is still pending.

Prosecutors contend her case is one of the most egregious abuses of public trust ever in Illinois.

February 12, 2013 ( ROCKFORD, Ill.) — At least half a dozen public officials are expected to make victim statements at this week’s sentencing of a small-town Illinois bookkeeper who stole $53 million in public funds.

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PHOTOS: Inside Rita Crundwell homes up for auction
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A government filing Tuesday says Dixon Mayor James Burke is among those who will describe how Rita Crundwell’s crimes devastated his northern Illinois community.
As the city’s longtime comptroller, Crundwell used the stolen money to fund her nationally renowned horse-breeding operation and luxurious tastes.

She’s scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Rockford. The most the 60-year-old could face is 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in November to a felony count of wire fraud. A state case against her is still pending.

Prosecutors contend her case is one of the most egregious abuses of public trust ever in Illinois.

Crundwell personal items may be sold online

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DIXON – Hundreds of personal items that belong to ousted Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell may soon be up for auction – online.

An online auction rather than a large public auction of items seized from Crundwell’s Dixon and Florida homes makes more fiscal sense, said Jason Wojdylo, chief inspector of the marshals asset forfeiture division….


Rita Crundwell faces 60 new state charges

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A great article from
Prosecutors in Illinois hand down dozens of new theft charges for former Dixon Illinois comptroller Rita Crundwell. Today the state indicted Crundwell on 60 theft charges that allegedly took place from January 1st, 2010 through her arrest on April 17th, 2012. These charges are separate from the federal charges that allege Crundwell stole $53 million dollars from the City of Dixon from 1990 through 2010.
The numbers are staggering.
This indictment alleges Rita Crundwell stole more than $11.2 million dollars in less than 2 and half years.
60 charges in all, they read almost like an accountant’s ledger.
$255,000 on January 19th.
$198,000 on January 25th.
$178,000 on January 29th.
On and on the list goes, the last charge filed the day before she was arrested on April 17th of this year. The indictment is separate from federal charges, and the case will be tried completely separately as well.
Dixon Mayor Jim Burke says he looks at this as a backup plan, just in case the federal trial falls flat.
“The way we were pushing this was to get some insurance that if it was a slap on the wrist that there would be more from the state,” says Burke.
The investigators have been working since early July to reach this point, sifting through more than 2,000 pieces of evidence. Between the federal investigation, and the state’s investigation, Lee County State’s Attorney Henry Dixon is confident Rita Crundwell acted alone.
“If you have more than one person involved you’re in deep trouble. And in my view if there had been even one other person involved with Ms. Crundwell in this enterprise, it would have been exposed sometime ago,” says Dixon.
Each of the 60 theft charges facing Crundwell carries a 6 year minimum sentence. If she’s found guilty on every charge she’d face at least 360 years behind bars, plus any punishment she may receive in her federal case.
“You can all multiply 6 times 60 pretty easily. There’s such a thing as a pound of flesh and a pound of flesh,” says Dixon.
Dixon adds they’re not seeking any restitution from Crundwell or her estate because as he put it, ‘The feds took everything. All she has left is her clothes and a few trophies.’
Former Dixon, Illinois comptroller Rita Crundwell faces 60 counts of felony theft after a grand jury indictment was delivered Thursday, September 20, 2012.
A Lee County grand jury handed down the indictment announced by police and prosecutors that same day at a news conference at Dixon City Hall.
The new indictment concerns alleged thefts by Crundwell from January 1, 2010 to April 17, 2012. In each count, Crundwell is accused of taking more than $100,000 worth of government property.
Crundwell previously pleaded not guilty in federal court to a single count of wire fraud. Prosecutors said Crundwell stole $53 million over more than 20 years to fund a lavish lifestyle centered around breeding championship horses.
More about the federal indictment – click here.
Crundwell is not in custody for the new indictment and charges. She was previously released on bond after being taken into federal custody.
If convicted, Crundwell faces a minimum of six years in prison for each charge in the September 20 indictment.

Rita Crundwell Auction In Dixon, IL

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Awesome story at
U.S. Marshals are selling almost all of Rita Crundwell’s property and personal items. More than 2000 people are expected at the auction that takes place on Sunday and Monday in Dixon. Everything that will be sold is coming from Crundwell’s properties in Dixon and Florida.

A court order and an agreement from Rita Crundwell to sell her possessions is why Federal Marshals are able to sell Crundwell’s homes, horses and property. The list of the former Dixon comptroller’s personal items is extensive. Most of the bigger items being sold are related to Crundwell’s horse operation. There are Bobcats, John Deere Tractors, and several horse trailers. Horse equipment such as saddles are also for sale. 300 horses that did not sell at a web auction earlier this month are also on the list.

Federal Marshals are also selling 11 pages of personal items. The list shows benches, tables, bar stools, couches and chairs. There are also 9 televisions, several VCR’s and DVD players, and washers and dryers that are up for grabs. Clothes, 7 fur coats, exercise equipment and art work featuring horses are also on the list.

14 of Crundwell’s cars will be sold; they include a 2012 Chevy Silverado, a Ford Thunderbird, a Lexus, and a Hummer H2.

If Crundwell is found not guilty, she will receive the money back.

Dixon Hires New Financial Director

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Dixon – The city turns the page on the Rita Crundwell scandal by hiring her replacement.

Paula Meyer takes over the newly created position of the city’s Financial Director. She most recently served as Dean of Business Services at Sauk Valley Community College.

Meyer will be in charge of financial planning, putting together a budget, and of course protecting the city’s assets. “It’s very exciting, it’s a new challenge” Meyer said during a press conference this afternoon. “It’s kind of a fresh start here for the city and we’re going to get things moving and headed in the right direction.

Meyer will make $95,000/year. She’ll start her new job next month.

Meanwhile, Crundwell is charged with wire fraud, accused of stealing more than $50 million from the city.



Six Crundwell horses dead

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Some of the more than 400 horses that were seized from former Dixon comptroller Rita Crundwell,have died.

Since the U.S. Marshals Service started caring for the horses on May first,sixof them have died. Several at the Dixon ranch,one in Wisconsin and one in Texas.

Most of them were under veterinary care before they died. The first passed away on May 3rd from bacteria in the blood. The second died on June 4th from pneumonia,a third died on June 20th. The foal was found in a field at the Dixon ranch. Authorities say it also had a heart murmur. On June 21st a horse in Texas died from colic. On July 5th an older horse died from kidney failure. And on July 11th another horse died from kidney failure.

The U.S. Marshals Service says they could award a horse auction contract next week. The contractor then has 45 days to put on the auction. It will take place at the Dixon ranch, likely in late August or early September. People will also be able to bid online.

Dixon residents largely unaware of Crundwell’s lifestyle

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DIXON, Ill. — If Rita Crundwell stole $53 million from taxpayers here, as federal authorities claim, the former comptroller’s discreet spending and success as a horse breeder helped dampen local suspicions.

Many people in Dixon, from the mayor to a bartender at one of Crundwell’s hangouts, thought the 59-year-old’s accumulation of horses and property in the town of 15,733 people was the result of her breeding-business savvy.

But federal investigations into her assets revealed hundreds of horses in 14 states, luxury homes and cars, jewelry and other high-dollar purchases.

“I didn’t know anything about the $2 million RV,” Dixon Mayor Jim Burke said of another of Crundwell’s assets. “I’ve since learned about some pretty lavish parties she had at horse shows in Florida with that big motor home and her expensive horse trailers.”

The U.S. Marshals Service is moving to return Crundwell’s massive inventory of horses, their offspring — even embryos and semen — back into cash for the city of Dixon.

Strict rules will govern the upcoming public auction of her assets, and Burke hopes the return on taxpayers’ unapproved investments will start to pay off before the first mare is sold.

“It is my understanding it’ll be one of the largest horse sales in the history of the country,” he said. “People will come from all over and stay for days. It’s economic development at its worst.”

Discreet spending

Burke said he thinks Crundwell maintained a “ruse” to help hide her decades of stealing, which federal prosecutors say she managed by moving city money into private accounts.

“For example, the Budweiser Clydesdales were in town, and I was asked about a place to keep them overnight,” he said. “I asked Rita about keeping them out at the ranch on Red Brick (Road).

“She said, ‘Let me think about that.’ Then, the next day, she said, ‘I got overruled on that.’”

The mayor said he thinks the reply was intended to give him the impression Crundwell was not in charge of the ranch, which requires a security code for access through gates that are personalized with her initials.

He since has learned she was keeping nearly 300 horses there, and every one of the animals is on the Marshals Service’s list of assets in forfeiture.

Elaine Bruns, a bartender at Shamrock Pub, about a half-mile from one of Crundwell’s homes, said she frequented the small bar, which has low-slung ceilings, 10 barstools and a regular lunch crowd.

“She was always very nice,” she said of Crundwell. “Her tipping was OK. It depended on the day. I thought she got her money from the horses. I truly believe some of her family didn’t know what was going on.”

Crundwell’s list of assets includes hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, but one of the owners of a Dixon jewelry store said she never shopped there.

Mike Venier, of Venier’s Jewelry, speculated a policy at his family-owned business may have turned Crundwell away: “We don’t take American Express.”

She is alleged to have charged more than $2 million on her personal American Express card, including more than $300,000 in jewelry.

Venier, whose jewelry store is just one block from City Hall, also speculated on how Crundwell may have gotten away with the crimes for which she is accused.

“I think we trusted to a fault,” he said. “I think that’s the bottom line: good, old-fashioned, small-town trust.

“At least the leak has stopped. That’s a positive for us.”

The mayor said trust wasn’t the only factor at play.

“She never wore that jewelry around City Hall,” he said. “Never.”

If she had, it likely would have stood out.

Crundwell’s office was just down the hall from Burke’s second-floor office, where bulges in the carpet give away large spots where adhesive has dried. Furniture is dated, and ceiling tiles and wallpaper are stained from water leaks.

The assets

Two of Crundwell’s Dixon properties are just down the road from one another.

Her longtime home on Route 52 East has the same punch-code security system as the entrances to the ranch on Red Brick Road.

Both properties are surrounded by fences, and the house is situated in such a way that it is protected from views from the street. At the ranch, about a dozen miniature stables dot the manicured grounds. Even the crop of corn across the gravel road appears to be doing well, its stalks shoulder height.

Some of the horses’ names: Have Faith in Money, Packin’ Jewels, RC Tilted Palace and Money Is Hot.

“Somebody’s going to pay a lot of money for some of those horses,” predicted Marcia Freeman, a Sycamore, Ill., horse-farm owner, who said she has been doing business with Crundwell for 12 years. “A couple of her studs, like Good I Will Be, will go for $250,000 to $500,000.”

There also is considerable value in the horse saddles that are expected to go up for auction this summer.

The Marshals Service has listed 10 “Phil Harris saddles” in its auction inventory.

Mabelene Harris, of North Carolina-based Harris Leather & Silverworks, estimated Crundwell paid $18,000 for some of them, adding that she knows of at least 13 saddles her company made for Crundwell.

“Some of them are very expensive,” she said of the custom-made riding gear. “Our saddles have an excellent resale value.

“We’re going to miss all that money she spent with us. I sure feel sorry for the folks in that town.”

Mayor Burke said he is hoping those high resale values — on hundreds of horses, dozens of saddles, homes, cars, trucks, trailers and land — will help Dixon begin to dig out.

Asked what his response would be if Crundwell’s investments actually paid off big for Dixon, Burke said, “That would be wonderful! Maybe we could go up and testify on her behalf.

“I keep thinking: She had to have known this would all come crashing down.”

More Rita Crundwell questions

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Q: Who is the relative prosecutors say picked up the mail when Crundwell was on vacation? Why did the mayor and the commissioners allow that? Will this relative be arrested?

A: We haven’t been able to get confirmed who was picking up the mail.

Until this fall, when Kathe Swanson came to Mayor Jim Burke with the bank statement they said neither of them knew about, Burke said he didn’t know a relative was getting the mail.

The other commissioners I spoke to also said they were unaware of the practice. Commissioner Jeff Kuhn said that would have been a huge red flag had they known, but as part-time commissioners, they don’t deal with day-to-day things such as the mail.

The FBI will not comment on whether anyone else is being investigated or whether additional arrests are pending.

Q: The Dixon Municipal Band had its budget cut in half this past fall. Will any money recovered go toward restoring that program?

A: There’s no one place the money could or must go. If revenue figures end up being different than otherwise thought, those additional dollars would go through the same budgeting process that the city goes through each year.

But until the mayor and the commissioners know what kind of money we’re actually talking about, they said they don’t want to get into that.

If you would like to see the funds go toward the band, or toward anything else, you can always write a letter to the editor (you can find guidelines here: saukvalley.com/forms/letters/) or speak during a public comment period at the beginning of Dixon City Council meetings. Call Kathe Swanson at City Hall, 815-288-1485, for details.

Q: Is Dixon going to get a city manager?

A: In a letter to the council sent out Friday, the mayor proposed establishing a seven-member panel to discuss changes to Dixon’s government.

That would include deciding whether to hire a city manager as well as looking at the commission form of government. It will take a council vote to establish the citizen panel.

So, although the mayor himself is not advocating a particular form of government at this time, he is pursuing that line of thinking.

Q: What’s with the board with nails that was buried in the circular drive off Red Brick Road just past the buildings at Crundwell’s ranch?

A: From conversations with law enforcement officials, there appears to be nothing wrong with a security device like the one described by readers as long as its on private property.

But when I asked the U.S. Marshals Service, which is overseeing the horse ranch, about the board, I was told they were unaware of it and would look into it.

The board has since been removed, a marshals spokeswoman said, and an alternative security measure had been taken to prevent access to the ranch.

Q: Why are people who aren’t associated with Occupy Dixon showing up as members of the group on Facebook?

A: In 2010, Facebook changed the way they do groups. This change means that anyone who is invited to a group is automatically added as a member.

We’ve heard from a lot of people who are upset that they’ve been added to Facebook groups without their consent. If you are one of them, you can remove yourself by hovering over the group’s name in the left-hand column. A little icon that looks like a pencil will appear. Click that and choose Leave Group. You no longer will appear as a member in that group.